Here and Now #1610 | Wisconsin Public Television

Here and Now #1610

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Premiere Date: 
September 8, 2017

Here and Now #1610

On tonight's show we examine: the recent passage of the Foxconn and budget bill out of the Joint Finance Committee by speaking with the co-chair of the committee Rep. John Nygren and committee member Sen. Lena Taylor; what may be in store for Wisconsin's "dreamers" according to immigrant advocate Christine Neumann-Ortiz; and Andy Gronik's run for governor, as he joins us in the studio.

Episode Transcript

Frederica Freyberg:

I'm Frederica Freyberg. Tonight on "Here and Now," Assembly Minority Leader Peter Barca steps down and the latest on the state budget. After that, we introduce you to Andy Gronik, a Democrat running for governor. Then a look ahead to what may be in store for so-called "dreamers" in Wisconsin. It's "Here and Now" for September 8.

Announcer:

Funding for "Here and Now" is provided, in part, by Friends of Wisconsin Public Television.

Frederica Freyberg:

First tonight, Assembly Minority Leader Kenosha Democrat Representative Peter Barca has resigned his leadership post. This comes after his yes vote on the Foxconn incentive package. One of just three Democrats in that chamber to vote yes. The technology company could locate in Kenosha County. Barca became minority leader in the midst of some of the most volatile political upheaval in state history. The Republican passage of Act 10. Neither he nor his Democratic members could stop it. We look back now at a clip from reporting we did at the time with Peter Barca front and center.

Scott Fitzgerald:

Clerk, call roll.

Peter Barca:

No. Excuse me.

Man:

Aye.

Peter Barca:

No. Listen. It says here if there is any doubt as to whether good cause exists, the governmental body should provide 24 hours notice.

Mike Ellis:

There are 18 ayes, one no. The conference report is adopted.

[chanting "Shame"]

Jeff Fitzgerald:

We feel it's the right thing to do to get this state on the right track. We feel it.

Peter Barca:

You are voting with a giant storm cloud above your head.

[chanting]

Peter Barca:

The charade is up.

Man:

Those in favor will vote aye. All opposed will vote no. The clerk will open the roll.

[chanting]

Frederica Freyberg:

Tonight, more than six years later, Peter Barca's leadership position is up and he will step down. Representative Gordon Hintz of Oshkosh announced this afternoon he will run to be the next Assembly Democratic Leader. Moving now to other news, it's more than two months late, but Republicans finally passed the state budget out of the Joint Finance Committee this week. How to fund roads and address a billion dollar gap in the transportation fund tied the majority up in knots for months. What emerged this week didn't get to a long-term funding source but it did pass on a party line vote.

John Nygren:

We will begin with the roll.

Frederica Freyberg:

Republicans have been arguing amongst themselves over transportation spending for more than a year. With Assembly Republicans looking to raise revenue for big road projects. While Senate Republicans and Governor Scott Walker wanted to continue borrowing hundreds of millions of dollars. In the end, they agreed to $402 million in borrowing and an increase on registration fees for hybrid and electric vehicles. That will only bring in about $400 million a year. And Republicans admit they did not create a long-term fix to the funding problem. Plus, major highway projects like Interstate 94 East-West and the Zoo Interchange in Milwaukee will continue to be delayed due to lack of funds.

Alberta Darling:

I am disappointed about the I-94 East-West. I think that what we're doing maybe is a bit shortsighted. I would say it is shortsighted because we're going to have orange buckets up all over the place for years.

Frederica Freyberg:

Republicans also changed the special session bill that paves the way for Foxconn to build a manufacturing plant in southeast Wisconsin. The amendment changes the legal process. So if a circuit court judge overrules a local government decision, like to take a person's property to give to Foxconn, the company can appeal the ruling directly to the State Supreme Court. Democrats say it makes a bad bill worse.

Gordon Hintz:

We can't even finish funding our highway infrastructure for existing businesses in the state of Wisconsin. But when we need something to distract from a relatively poor economic record, certainly of this governor, we're going to give away $3 billion, up to $3 billion, change environmental standards and change legal process.

Frederica Freyberg:

The legislature's budget committee also bit into tax policy. It rejected Governor Walker's income tax cut and sales tax holiday.  But also said no to the governor's increase in the Earned Income Tax Credit for working poor people. It eliminated the Alternative Minimum Tax affecting high-income earners and cut the local property tax on business machinery. Joining us now to talk about the work, Joint Finance Committee Co-chair Republican Representative John Nygren. He joins us from Marinette. Thanks a lot for doing so.

John Nygren:

Good to be here in Marinette especially.

Frederica Freyberg:

I bet after a lot of work. First I wanted to get your reaction to Peter Barca's resignation as minority leader in the Assembly.

John Nygren:

Well, you know, Peter and I may disagree on a lot of issues. But I think he's a good man. And I think it's unfortunate. It's kind of a statement of the current status of the Democrats in the Assembly. That Peter voting for the best interests of his district with the Foxconn deal was basically made to step down based on that vote. Just disappointing.

Frederica Freyberg:

I want to get now to the budget. We enumerated the major prongs of the transportation piece of it a little bit earlier. But am I correct in understanding that the new revenue source for roads is in additional fees for hybrid and electric cars?

John Nygren:

Yes, that is the only new, additional revenue that is in this budget for transportation. It's more of a parity. We looked at the average vehicle that travels 12,000 miles in the state per year and what they pay in gas tax. And we want to make sure that everybody's paying their fair share. So that's why we established this hybrid and electric vehicle fee to give us that parity.

Frederica Freyberg:

So even having just stated that it was this sole new revenue source, do you have disappointment in that?

John Nygren:

Oh, there's no doubt that I believe we needed to go further. However, you know, we also put in a number of reforms. We are going to continue to look for waste and abuse at the DOT. So we believe that there's dollars to be saved there. But, you know, unlike some of my colleagues in maybe the other house who don't believe we have a funding problem for transportation, I actually do. Yet in politics you don't get everything you want. And this is one of those examples. At the end of the day, we're going to put a budget forward that's pretty positive for the constituents of my area and the rest of the state. And that's something we can be proud of.

Frederica Freyberg:

In the transportation budget you also voted to eliminate the prevailing wage for public projects. A Fiscal Bureau paper describes savings of that as, quote, "not statistically significant." What about that?

John Nygren:

Well, Fiscal Bureau is limited in what they can actually -- the numbers they actually can provide for us. But I think it pretty much goes without saying that if you're not establishing an artificial wage that must be paid on any state-funded project, that there's a potential for the free market to actually engage and to drive costs down. So we believe it's a reasonable step to help us save additional resources.

Frederica Freyberg:

What about construction delays that even your co-chair says she's disappointed about?

John Nygren:

Well, there shouldn't be any more additional delays other than what the governor had already had in his budget. You know, Senator Darling comes from southeast Wisconsin. I understand the concerns of southeast Wisconsin. Yet I would also say that the legislators and the leaders in southeast Wisconsin need to engage in the conversation about how we fix transportation long-term in Wisconsin. Until that happens, there's not going to be a solution to address this anytime soon.

Frederica Freyberg:

Joint Finance did a vote to study polling. Is that the nod to long-term, sustainable funding?

John Nygren:

It’s one of the opportunities. We did a study last time. This is kind of a follow-up to that. We do know with tolling we do need congressional approval to get that done. Yet from my belief, you know, it is a user fee. If you're not traveling the system, you're not paying. So rather than raising registration, which is across the board regardless of how many miles you use on our system. Tolling is an opportunity for us to charge people for their use rather than passing across the board.

Frederica Freyberg:

A long ways out, though, presumably. As for Foxconn, why do you want the Supreme Court to decide any appeals as opposed to the usual lower courts?

John Nygren:

Well, we know in today's world, you know, if you can't win at the ballot box, if you can't win at the court of public opinion, oftentimes you go to the courts to try and stop things that you may not like or you may not agree with. I think overwhelmingly, even though we don't have direct jobs coming to northeast Wisconsin from Foxconn, they're supportive. Seeing an opportunity for people to delay it in the courts, this does not avoid anybody's day in court. It just actually gets us to the resolution faster.

Frederica Freyberg:

Where’s the language for any clawbacks from the incentive package should Foxconn not meet its hiring goals?

John Nygren:

There are already clawback language in existing contracts for WEDC so that's where the opportunity would be for clawbacks. Remember, there's two different types of credits in the Foxconn deal. One is based on capital investment of up to $10 billion that Foxconn has plans to invest in southeast Wisconsin. So if there is no brick and mortar actually being built, there's no credits. On the other side, there's credits based on jobs. So if there is no jobs, there's no credit. So, you know, could Foxconn come, invest $10 billion and a few years down the road actually close up? That's relatively possible. Wouldn't necessarily make good business sense for them to do that. That's where those clawbacks that WEDC will write in the contract would come in.

Frederica Freyberg:

We need to leave it there. Representative John Nygren, thanks very much for joining us.

John Nygren:

Have a great weekend. Good to talk to you.

Frederica Freyberg:

You too. Now to the Democrats and Joint Finance Committee Member Senator Lena Taylor, who joins us from Milwaukee. Senator, thanks very much for doing so.

Lena Taylor:

It’s truly a pleasure to be with you Frederica.

Frederica Freyberg:

I know he's in the lower house, but what is your comment on Peter Barca stepping down as minority leader in the Assembly?

Lena Taylor:

You know, I always appreciate anyone who's been a leader. And I respect his desire to do that. And I hear that Gordon Hintz may be running. And I’ve had an opportunity to work with him. And he's a great guy.

Frederica Freyberg:

On to the budget. We've just spoken to Representative Nygren about Foxconn and transportation. First Democrats on the committee voted against the transportation package. Why?

Lena Taylor:

Well, first of all, there was nothing in it for public transportation. And very candidly nothing in it really to even help people to connect to -- you talked about the Foxconn deal which lacks accessibility, accountability and really opportunity for Wisconsin businesses. But transportation just really failed to come up with a long-term solution, which is what we've been waiting on all summer for them to do. So they get a big F for failure for creating an independent funding source, a long-term solution and frankly even a short-term solution. They decided to not do the Zoo Interchange, which is really where Flight for Life -- you know, a major engine in the Milwaukee and southeastern Wisconsin area.

Frederica Freyberg:

So what do your constituents think about that?

Lena Taylor:

They’re very perturbed that they would be so partisan. That they would be so disingenuous about dealing with transportation costs. This is going to cost taxpayers more gas. It's going to cost them more repairs in their cars. And it's going to cost us more money to do that work later that they've delayed for what? Three or four years. And then they put in there that you can't even take a surplus and use it if the Department of Transportation comes up with it later.

Frederica Freyberg:

Now, as for Foxconn, Joint Finance passed its package obviously of incentives and changes, including allowing lawsuits over it to bypass state appeals courts and go directly to the Supreme Court. What's your reaction to that?

Lena Taylor:

I think it's completely unfair that they've given this foreign company, this billionaire investor, an opportunity to pass not only our legal system, but also our environmental regulations that we have. It's very concerning. I also don't know if you know, but it's the largest subsidy, you know, to a company, a foreign company in particular, of any state. I mean, it's really -- $3 billion? This is over spending money for our children because they did not fill the void that they created with the largest cut in history to education.

Frederica Freyberg:

In terms of that prong of the Foxconn deal that allows it to kind of jump over the appeals courts, it does avoid the whole development being sidelined for years as these cases make their way through court, right?

Lena Taylor:

Well, very candidly, the process is the process that every other Wisconsin business and Wisconsinite needs to do. So why should this foreign company, for a deal that was done at MIU, that was done on what was equivalent to almost a napkin, a piece of paper, very small writings, why should they be able to do what you can't do and I can't do and no other company in Wisconsin can do, which is to usurp our system? I think that that's appropriate, for them to abide by the same rules that other Wisconsinites have to.

Frederica Freyberg:

What’s your expectation about whether Foxconn could be a positive economic development engine though for Milwaukee?

Lena Taylor:

I think that Foxconn, it would be a great opportunity if we could make sure that there were transportation connections. They didn't even have the ability for people in Racine to get connected to the potential site that they're talking about because there was no funding for public transportation. And they don't have those sources now. We also have issue in Milwaukee with whether or not people are going to get the training that they need. They're not doing training until years out. And they said $20 million. But one quarter of it, Gateway says we need a quarter of it ourself, in order to be able to bring theirselves up to being able to deal with capacity for the amount of need. So I’m concerned about transportation and training, not to mention access for businesses in Wisconsin or Milwaukee to even build the building.

Frederica Freyberg:

When that Foxconn bill goes to the floor of the Senate, you're voting no?

Lena Taylor:

I’m voting no as long as we're going to allow a foreign company to usurp our legal system. We're not going to put in transportation. We're not putting in training. And we have no security and accountability that Wisconsinites will get the jobs. Nor the ability to contract to do the work to build the building.

Frederica Freyberg:

All right. We need it leave it there. Senator Lena Taylor, thanks for joining us.

Lena Taylor:

Thank you for having me.

Frederica Freyberg:

The state Assembly and Senate are expected to take up the budget and Foxconn in floor sessions scheduled for next week.

Frederica Freyberg:

The Trump Administration announced this week that the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program will end in six months. Recipients of DACA, often referred to as "dreamers" whose permits expire within the next six months have until October 5 to apply for renewal. But those whose permits run out after the March deadline will see their permits expire unless Congress acts. President Trump said late this week that "dreamers" should not worry about being deported before the six months is up. In tonight's look ahead, we go to Christine Neumann-Ortiz. She's executive director of the immigrant rights organization Voces de la Frontera in Milwaukee. Thanks very much for being here.

Christine Neumann-Ortiz:

Thank you so much for the invitation.

Frederica Freyberg:

Do the president's assurances calm the fears of people in this country who arrived as children, the "dreamers"?

Christine Neumann-Ortiz:

Absolutely not. We've seen that despite his claims that he's going to prioritize enforcement, the reality is is that with his initial repeal of the executive orders, everyone is a target. We've actually seen that play out. And with this latest repeal of protections for these young immigrants, it really is -- it's a reality check that he is very sincere with his plans of implementing very discriminatory, mass deportation program.

Frederica Freyberg:

How many so-called "dreamers" are affected in Wisconsin?

Christine Neumann-Ortiz:

Close to 8,000. And we're a very young state. I mean, many of the -- it's very much, as it is nationally, mixed immigration status families.

Frederica Freyberg:

And so describe for me what these so-called "dreamers" are thinking right now.

Christine Neumann-Ortiz:

There’s obviously a lot of -- there is fear. There is fear because they recognize that these protections have been taken away from them. That their ability to legally work, to legally drive, to be a source of support for their families, that that is gone. That that will be gone unless we fight. And this is an opportunity, a galvanizing opportunity for those DACA youth, as they have been doing, to really step forward. And those around them, their family members, their priests, the pastors, their neighbors, their family friends to really stand with them and send a very strong message. One, to U.S. Speaker of the House Ryan that we want him to sponsor a bill that will make DACA permanent with a path to citizenship and a clean bill. And then secondly, to really send a message that the community -- these are folks that are part of our community and we're going to stand strong as a community against the efforts to separate families.

Frederica Freyberg:

Who are these "dreamers"? Describe who they are for us.

Christine Neumann-Ortiz:

Well, one person that comes to mind is one of the "dreamers" that just did a hunger strike in front of Paul Ryan’s office from September 1 to September 5, Valeria, who -- excuse me, Fernanda, who came here. Valeria Luis is another one from his district. Both Valeria and Fernanda are from his district. They both came to the United States as very young age. Their parents were from Mexico. In the case of Valeria, it was a very dangerous process. She was separated for a period of time from her father. And she herself, you know, gives in her testimony, has talked about how hard it was because she didn't even as a young girl in the process of separation, didn't initially recognize her mom. They are united. They are living here. And she very much, like all of them, believe that their parents are the original "dreamers." And they're fighting not just for themselves, but their families.

Frederica Freyberg:

Unfortunately we need to leave it there. But clearly we will all be watching this as the days, weeks and months go on. Christine Neumann-Ortiz. Thanks very much.

Christine Neumann-Ortiz:

Thank you.

Frederica Freyberg:

A closer look now at the widening field of candidates running for governor. Tonight, we introduce you to Democrat Andy Gronik. Mr. Gronik is a Milwaukee businessman. He joins us now. Thanks for being here.

Andy Gronik:

Great to be here. Thank you.

Frederica Freyberg:

First we wanted to ask you what sets you apart from the many other Democrats who have thrown their hat into the ring?

Andy Gronik:

Well I come at this from a completely different perspective. As an outsider, as someone who's been in business my entire career. Someone who's helped companies solve problems and access billions of dollars every year so they could grow and create jobs. It's a very different skill set. And it's a skill set that I think will get Wisconsin growing again.

Frederica Freyberg:

As to that skill set and you talking about being a business person, recent news articles, as you well know, say that you were fired by your father and sued by your former business partner for alleged fraudulent behavior. How do you reconcile that with what you say is a skill set to be the governor of this state because of your business background?

Andy Gronik:

Well, I transformed my father's business. And I will tell you that not only did he fire me when I offered to buy the business, really at the end of having grown it. He fired me pretty much every month. We had a very different view of that business. I came in. It was a small auction business serving mostly southeastern Wisconsin. And transformed it to an information business that was doing appraisals and business consulting on a national basis. The company became much larger than what my father was comfortable with. And that caused us to hit heads, as I think a lot of father and son businesses do, for the entire eight years that I was there. We finally got to a point where, you know what, we have a different vision of where the business is going. I offered to buy the company. And he fired me. This time I actually took him up on it.

Frederica Freyberg:

As for the split with the business partner?

Andy Gronik:

The business partner, that was a cascading series of events associated with my actually purchasing a house where we discovered after living there for seven months that it had toxigenic mold and pathogenic bacteria. It made my entire family sick. What I did at that point was stood up for my family. I took a leave from my company. And I fought for them the same way I’m going to fight for the state of Wisconsin.

Frederica Freyberg:

Let’s go to the issues now. What's the single most important thing in your mind that Wisconsin could do to improve and help its education system?

Andy Gronik:

Gosh, where do we begin? I think we start by not starving those institutions of resources. When you think about the university system, it's always been an economic engine of our state. Always. For Scott Walker to come in and actually take resources away and attack the institutions and their professors in a way that actually diminishes the effectiveness of the university system, I think it's crazy.

Frederica Freyberg:

If the ACA should still be in force, would you expand Medicaid, take the expanded Medicaid in Wisconsin?

Andy Gronik:

Well, you're talking about things that are very personal to me, because I am on Obamacare. My entire family is. I am a guy who was diagnosed with Crohn's disease in my early 20s. And that's an existing -- a pre-existing condition I’ve listed my whole life. I understand that the fear Wisconsinites have of ending that program, when I believe that everybody in Wisconsin should have affordable access to health care.

Frederica Freyberg:

How would you go about growing good-paying jobs in Wisconsin?

Andy Gronik:

First, I would make sure we start focusing on our strengths as a state. We're great in food. We're great at growing food, processing food, distributing food and all the industries around food. Clean water, sustainable energy, clean air, those are all industries that we can be focusing on as a state to actually be the leader, be the global leader in advancing technologies and applications that allow us to be the world source.

Frederica Freyberg:

Speaking of technologies and applications, what is your position on the Foxconn deal?

Andy Gronik:

Well, interesting, too. I mean, I just wrote an op-ed on that. I talked about some simple things I think people have to be aware of. First, we're essentially offering guarantees to Foxconn if they build a building without Foxconn offering us guarantees how many people they'll put in that building. And that's how the state of Wisconsin actually gets their investment back. That's a crazy way to do business. And again, as an outsider, somebody that's coming in having done feasibility analysis for companies all over the world, it makes me understand why people are concerned about giving their money to government, thinking that government's not capable of actually acting responsibly with their tax dollars. This is a great example of that.

Frederica Freyberg:

With just about a half a minute left, why do you think you could unseat Scott Walker?

Andy Gronik:

Well, Scott Walker comes to this office as a guy who's known nothing but politics. I come to this office as someone who has brought people together my entire professional career. Actually executed plans, measured that success very transparently and made things happen. We need to make things happen in this state because we're not creating new businesses. We're last in the country. The companies that we're paying enormous amounts of money to to stay in our state, we still lost over 3700 manufacturing jobs last year. Despite all of his efforts, we only created less than 12,000 private sector jobs last year. That's pretty crazy. Wisconsin's ready for a change.

Frederica Freyberg:

All right. We need to leave it there. Andy Gronik, thank you very much.

Andy Gronik:

Thank you. Appreciate it.

Frederica Freyberg:

The race for governor is not the only statewide race to come in 2018. A new candidate announced her intent to challenge Tammy Baldwin in next year's race for U.S. Senate.

Leah Vukmir:

The Wisconsin way is never giving up.

Frederica Freyberg:

Leah Vukmir, a Republican state senator from Brookfield, announced her candidacy Thursday. Vukmir enters a small field of those vying for the Republican nomination. She will face Marine veteran and Delafield businessman Kevin Nicholson who has not yet filed paperwork to run, but announced his candidacy in July.

Kevin Nicholson:

Our Republic is in serious trouble.

Frederica Freyberg:

There will be much more on this race to come. That’s all for our program tonight. I'm Frederica Freyberg. Have a great weekend.

Announcer:

Funding for "Here and Now" is provided, in part, by Friends of Wisconsin Public Television.

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